Thursday, February 21, 2013

SYRIA WATCH- How to Start a Battalion in Five Easy Lessons
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, London Review of Books, Feb 21 2013

Thanks to their wealth and religion, they had connections across the mercantile Middle East, the illicit smuggling networks of the region and, more important, links to powerful preachers and religious families in the Gulf. When, very early on, their native town of Homs erupted in an uprising that soon became an armed insurrection, it was wealthy and usually religious Syrians like Abu Abdullah who sent money, ran services, provided food and fuel. They are still central to humanitarian provision in Syria. Abu Abdullah used his extensive cross-border network to bring in weapons and ammunition. He told me: [[[[[ I had five pick-up trucks filled with weapons and ammunition crossing from Lebanon and ten crossing from Iraq every week. We started with hunting rifles and now we bring anti-aircraft guns. We were the ones who powered the revolution.]]]]]]]] We reached a point in the fighting, in spring 2012, when we needed proper support. We needed heavy machine guns, real weapons. Money was never an issue: how much do you want? $50m? $100m? Not a problem. But heavy weapons were becoming hard to find: the Turks, and without them this revolution wouldn’t have started, wanted the US to give them the green light before they would allow us to ship the weapons. We had to persuade Saad al-Hariri to go to put pressure on the Saudis, to tell them: “You abandoned the Sunnis of Iraq and you lost a country to Iran. If you do the same thing again you won’t only lose Syria, but Lebanon with it.”The idea was that the Saudis in turn would pressure the US to give the Turks the green light to allow proper weapons into the country. Now suddenly, while on the ground the revolution was still in the hands of small bands of rebels and activists, a set of outside interests started conspiring to direct events in ways amenable to them. There were the Saudis, who never liked Bashar but were wary of more chaos in the Middle East. The Qataris, who were positioning themselves at the forefront of the revolutions of the Arab Spring, using their formidable TV networks to mobilise support and their vast wealth to fund illicit weapons shipments to the Libyans. And of course there were the French and the US. Abu Abdullah said:The(ZIONIST RAN) US gave their blessing, and all the players converged and formed an operations room. It had the Qataris, the Saudis, the Turks and Hariri.In their infinite wisdom the players decided to entrust the running of the room, known as the Armament Room or the Istanbul Room after the city where it was based, to a Lebanese politician called Okab Sakr, a member of Hariri’s party who was widely seen as divisive and autocratic. The plan was to form military councils to be led and dominated by defectors from the Syrian army,this in order to appease the US, who were (supposedly – RB) getting worried about the rising influence of the Islamists. All the fighting groups, it was assumed, would eventually agree to answer to the military councils because they were the main source of weapons. At first, the plan seemed to be working. As summer approached military councils sprang up in Aleppo, Homs, Idlib and Deir al-Zour and some major battalions and factions did join in. Better weapons, though not the sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft equipment the rebels wanted, started entering Syria from Turkey. Until this point, most of the weapons smuggled from Turkey had come in small shipments on horseback or carried on foot by intermediaries and the fighters themselves, but these new shipments were massive, sent by truck. Iraq remained the largest single supplier, a legacy of three decades of war, but a lot of the Iraqi ammunition was of bad quality, having been buried in the sand for years. So the new supplies were eagerly received: RPGs, Austrian rifles (surplus or refurbished), Swiss hand grenades, Australian sniper rifles, the list went on.
 Abu Abdullah drove me to the Turkish border one day. He pointed to a Turkish military outpost and said:This is where we did the handovers of shipments. They drove them to the post and we took over from there, but now we’re only getting 10,000 to 15,000 rounds a week. It’s nothing. Iraq has been the main provider, but we can’t get anything interesting from there either. I sent people looking for weeks and we only found one anti-aircraft gun.After giving up on the Turks and their Armament Room, Abu Abdullah and his friends turned to the Libyans. Abu Abdullah said:
In Iraq we buy a certain number of bullets, but in Libya they sell them by the weight, by the ton, and it’s dirt cheap. But we can’t ship them by sea. Thirteen countries control the waters in the Mediterranean and we need permission from all of them, or from the US. So the Qataris fly the weapons to Doha and then they ship them down from Turkey.We drove along the border looking for a place to cross, but stopped by mistake in front of the wrong gate. A bearded man in a military jacket appeared carrying a Kalashnikov. He waved us in with his flashlight, but then an older man came over and ordered us to halt. There were three tents behind him and material for more. Abu Abdullah said: “We want to cross into Turkey.” The old man said politely but firmly, in heavily accented Arabic: “You can’t. This is private property. You have to leave immediately.”
This camp, right on the Turkish border, was for foreign Jihadis; the only people, as Abu Abdullah complained, who were getting money and equipment these days. Hakim al-Mutairi, a Kuwaiti Salafi preacher, was sending them millions of dollars, Abu Abdullah went on:
I confronted him at a meeting a few weeks ago. I told him, you are hijacking our revolution. The Jihadis are buying weapons and ammunition from the other units. They have no problem with money.At the end of January, I met a friend of Abu Abdullah. He’d once been a wealthy man, a merchant, but he’d seen his wealth dwindle as all his businesses came to a halt. His lips were quivering with anger and he kept thumping the table with his fist as he said:Why are the USAians doing this to us? They told us they wouldn’t send us weapons until we united. So we united in Doha. Now what’s their excuse? They say it’s because of the Jihadis, but it’s the Jihadis who are gaining ground. Abu Abdullah is $400k in debt and no one is sending him money anymore. It’s all going to the Jihadis. They have just bought a former military camp from a battalion that was fighting the government. They went to them, gave them I don’t know how many millions, and bought the camp. Maybe we should all become Jihadis. Maybe then we’ll get money and support.
[ed notes;also read... 

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